Crook County is the latest in rural Oregon to consider a natural resource plan that outlines policies on things like timber harvest, wildlife and fire management.
Crook County leaders voted 2-1 Tuesday to reject the natural resource plan submitted by a local political action committee.
The idea behind the recent slew of citizen-created plans is to give counties more say in federal land management. Backers say if local governments set out their priorities for public lands, then federal agencies have to adjust management practices to align with their plan.
But some legal experts don’t agree that coordination puts counties on equal footing with the federal government. Crook County’s own legal counsel said the submitted plan didn’t pass legal muster.
The Crook County court’s vote came after hearing from agency officials with the U.S Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife service and others who spoke positively about their relationship with the county.
Carol Benkosky with the Bureau of Land Management testified that adopting the plan could disrupt that relationship.
“There’s a variety of statements that are within the plan that would be problematic — create some conflict between the agency and the county,” Benkosky said.
Several agencies pointed to recent collaborative successes between the county and the federal government, like the Ochoco Forest Collaborative, a forest thinning and restoration project implemented by the agency, environmental groups, local government and timber interests.
Some agency leaders also warned adoption of a natural resource plan does not mean the recommendations of the county trumps the obligations of the agency.
“The Forest Service has to consider those recommendations,” said Stacy Forson with the U.S. Forest Service. “We do not have to adopt them.”
But Tom Case with the Central Oregon Patriots said the plan simply outlines county priorities. He said he appreciates the work of local agencies, noting often local managers are “between a rock and a hard place” when it comes to managing federal lands.
“We’re not against the Forest Service,” Case said. “We’re not trying to take over the world.”
Recently, at least three other rural Oregon counties have considered adopting similar natural resource plans to invoke coordination with federal agencies.
Coordination is a little-known provision in two federal environmental policy laws that requires agencies to coordinate with local governments in land use planning.
Crook County Judge Mike McCabe and Commissioner Ken Fahlgren voted to reject the plan, while Commissioner Seth Crawford supported the plan.
McCabe rejected the plan in its current form after learning about the difference between adopting it as a policy, rather than as a land use plan.
“If it’s policy, it doesn’t have teeth,” McCabe said.
Taking the advice of the county lawyer, McCabe invited the creators of the plan to bring a variation of it back to the county planning department, and go through the proper channels for amending the current land use plan.
Crawford said he didn’t see a problem with approving the plan as a policy.
“I think this is a great opportunity for the community to have a voice,” Crawford said. “I think we need to get a plan in place, and we need to start coordination.”